Election & Government 
Terms to Know

Absentee Ballot - 

An absentee ballot is a vote cast by someone who is unable to visit the official polling place on Election Day.

This type of vote is normally submitted by mail.

Increasing the ease of access to absentee ballots are seen by many as one way to improve voter turnout, though some jurisdictions require that a valid reason, such as sickness or travel, be given before a voter can participate in an absentee ballot.

Astroturfing - 

Astroturfing is an artificially-manufactured political movement designed to give the appearance of grassroots activism.

Campaigns & Elections magazine defined astroturf as a “grassroots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.”

Unlike natural grassroots campaigns which are people-rich and money-poor, an astroturf campaign tends to be the opposite, well-funded but with little actual support from voters.

Battleground State -

The terms “battleground state” and “swing state” refer to states that have closely divided support for Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. They are also sometimes called “purple states.”

Presidential campaigns are waged mainly in these battleground states as the outcomes in most other states on the electoral map are mostly known well ahead of the election.

Bully Pulpit -

A bully pulpit is a public office or position of authority that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter.  In theory, the expression could refer to any position of authority. In practice, it is usually used to describe the presidency.

Congressional Records -

The official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session. At the back of each daily issue is the “Daily Digest,” which summarizes the day’s floor and committee activities.

Dark Horse -

In politics, a “dark horse” is a candidate for office for whom little is known or for whom expectations are low, but who then goes on to unexpectedly win or succeed. While history is replete with examples of dark horse candidates who went on to win local, regional, state or national office, the term is most often used in the context of presidential politics.

Earmarks -

Funds that are allocated to a specific program, project or for a designated purpose. Revenues are earmarked by law. Expenditures are earmarked by appropriations bills or reports.

Jungle Primary - 

A jungle primary is an election in which all candidates for elected office run in the same primary regardless of political party.

K Street -

K Street refers to the area in downtown Washington, D.C. where many lobbyists, lawyers and advocacy groups have their offices. It’s become a term to refer to the lobbying industry as a whole.

Lame Duck Session -

When the House or Senate reconvenes in an even-numbered year following the November general elections to consider various items of business. Some lawmakers who return for this session will not be in the next Congress. Hence, they are informally called “lame duck” Members participating in a “lame duck” session.

Machine Politics - 

“Machines politics” is a phenomenon in urban politics, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Political machines are characterized by tight organization and a strong centralized leadership, typically in the form of a “boss.” They operate by dominating the political landscape. The “machine” gets its name from its ability to reliably, even mechanically, turn out the votes needed to get its members elected and its measures passed.

Obstructionism - 

The act of deliberately stalling, delaying, or preventing legislation from being passed. It has a negative connotation, as politicians do not want to be seen as preventing progress. Obstructionist politicians are typically either a a party with control of one branch or house of a legislature, or part of a minority party with enough of a plurality to prevent legislation.

Silent Majority -

The term “silent majority” refers to a large block of voters that feel marginalized, silenced or underserved by the political system. It’s commonly assumed that, if they voted en masse, this “silent majority” would have an enormous ability to affect the outcome of any given election.

Talking Points -

“Talking points” are a clear and concise list of ideas making up a politician’s main arguments in a stump speech. They’re typically used as a guide and not read word-for-word.

Unanimous Consent - 

Unanimous consent is a legislative procedure whereby a legislator requests approval by all legislators to approve rule changes and bills. Unanimous consent rules have been used in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate since their first meetings in 1789. A representative or senator requests unanimous consent from the presiding legislator to bypass quorum calls, approve routine bills, and activate unanimous consent agreements. Any legislator can object to this request in order to trigger debate prior to further consideration. The presiding officer waits for objections and approves passage if there is consent by all members.

Vote-a-rama -

During a vote-a-rama, each amendment is considered and voted on for about 10 minutes until they are finished with all amendments. It’s an exhausting process that many senators have said makes it impossible to know what is actually being considered.